Jowell: Gordon Brown was 'agent' of malign briefing

Dame Tessa Jowell says she is shocked by the "vile actions" of Damian McBride

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An ex-Labour minister has accused Gordon Brown of allowing a culture of "malign and awful" briefing against colleagues when he was chancellor.

Dame Tessa Jowell said revelations by Mr Brown's former spin doctor about how he routinely tried to discredit the ex-prime minister's rivals were "vile".

Damian McBride says he smeared Charles Clarke and John Reid among others as Mr Brown sought to succeed Tony Blair.

But he has insisted that Mr Brown was unaware of his actions.

In extracts of a memoir published in the Daily Mail, Mr McBride - who quit in 2009 after he was caught planning to smear Conservatives - said he was being loyal to Mr Brown, who was unaware of his actions.

Analysis

Damian McBride resigned when attempts to smear Conservative politicians were exposed.

But today, he makes it clear his usual victims were MPs who were supposedly on his own side of the political divide.

He currently works for a charity - but his memoir demonstrates that he was somewhat less charitable in the past.

He seeks to put the record straight by saying he didn't use his dark arts to force Alan Milburn out.

But he then says he would like a whole range of other offences against Blairites to be taken in to consideration.

Amongst the victims of his toxic briefings to the press were former Home Secretaries John Reid and Charles Clarke.

He says he was motivated out of loyalty to Gordon Brown - and he keeps the faith by maintaining the former prime minister wasn't aware of his methods.

Allies of Gordon Brown at the time were the two Eds - Messrs Miliband and Balls.

They are offered a measure of protection in Mr McBride's book, as the former spin doctor declines to provide a shred of proof that they were aware of, or encouraged, what he was doing to undermine those close to Tony Blair.

That will allow Labour's current leader to portray the McBride revelations as a piece of political history - and to point any unhappy backbenchers to the dangers of factionalism.

But there is little doubt the Labour leadership regret that their former colleague ever put his poison pen to paper - and they'll now hope that there will be no permanent damage to the party's image.

His book, Power Trip, recounts infighting and media manipulation within the Labour Party in the run-up to former Prime Minister Tony Blair stepping down in 2007 and Gordon Brown replacing him.

The excerpts, published just days before Labour's annual conference which starts in Brighton on Sunday, include claims that Mr McBride:

  • held a "black book" of stories about former Home Secretary Lord Reid, who resigned from the cabinet to avoid damaging newspaper allegations
  • "orchestrated a briefing war" between Charles Clarke and one of Mr Blair's advisers, leading to the ex-home secretary's sacking
  • leaked a damaging story to the News of the World about then Health Minister Ivan Lewis involving a female civil servant in his private office
  • accused shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander of being "cold-blooded" when he insisted sister and fellow Labour politician Wendy Alexander would have to resign over a donation
  • was asked to intervene in the 2010 Labour leadership contest - in which Mr Brown privately backed Ed Miliband over Ed Balls

Dame Tessa said she was "very sad" and "very angry" at infighting within Labour between 1997 and 2010 and suggested it had overshadowed Labour's achievements in many people's eyes.

'In the past'

She suggested many of the problems stemmed from Mr Brown wanting to replace Mr Blair in No 10.

"I think at the centre was the battle for supremacy of Gordon Brown in relation to Tony Blair.

Hilary Benn on Damian McBride claims from Gordon Brown era

"Tony Blair was the prime minister and at some level Gordon Brown could never, ever come to terms with the fact that he was not, at that time prime minister."

She added: "I would rather remember Gordon Brown's achievements in government and the work he did as chancellor... rather than being an agent of this malign and awful briefing," she told the BBC.

But she insisted Mr Miliband had made clear that such behaviour "was in the past and we are not going back to that" - adding that this had increased "confidence and solidarity" among colleagues.

"One of the most important things Ed Miliband has done is to outlaw this kind of briefing."

Dame Tessa said the timing of the book's serialisation was "awful" and suggested it was appearing shortly before the party's conference was for financial reasons.

"Damian McBride would be nobody but for the position he got in the Labour Party. Nobody is bigger than the Labour party and if you are part of the Labour family then you owe great loyalty to that in pursuit of Labour's service to the country."

'Best press'

Profile: Damian McBride

Damian McBride with Gordon Brown

He spent a decade at the heart of the Treasury and No 10.

A year into his job as a Treasury civil servant he is said to have impressed then-Chancellor Gordon Brown with his handling of the fuel protests in 2000.

Despite having never worked as a journalist, as most of his predecessors had, within three years the Cambridge graduate rose to become the Treasury's head of communications.

He gained a reputation for his tirades, earning him the nickname "McPoison" among reporters.

In 2005, he became a special adviser to Gordon Brown and two years later moved with him into No 10.

Responsible for the prime minister's strategy and planning, Mr McBride had a key role with close access to the PM and other decision makers.

But in April 2009 he resigned and was banished from Downing Street after emails he sent - containing obscene and unfounded claims about Tory MPs - were published by a Westminster blogger.

In the memoir, Mr McBride said he was motivated by a desire to protect Mr Brown.

"I offered him the best press he could hope for, unrivalled intelligence about what was going on in the media and access to parts of the press that no other Labour politician could reach," he says.

"And my attack operations against his Labour rivals and Tory enemies were usually both effective and feared, with me willingly taking all the potential risk and blame."

He added: "Drug use; spousal abuse; secret alcoholism; extra-marital affairs.

"I estimate I did nothing with 95% of the stories I was told. But, yes, some of them ended up on the front pages of Sunday newspapers."

Mr McBride resigned as political press officer to Mr Brown after messages he sent from a No 10 website address - containing unfounded claims about Tory MPs - were published by a Westminster blogger.

At the time he apologised for the "inappropriate and juvenile" content of the emails but said had been "sickened" they had been made public.

According to political blogger Iain Dale, proceeds from sales of the book will be split between Damian McBride's current employers, Cafod - the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development - and the appeal by his former employers, Finchley Catholic High School, to build a new sixth form centre.

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